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Iran cruises past Japan in men’s volleyball final

Kyodo

Japan lost 3-1 to Iran in the men’s volleyball final at the Asian Games on Friday, failing to defend the title it won four years ago in Guangzhou, China.

Iran, led by Seyed Mohammad Mousavi Eraghi’s 22 points, took the first set 28-26 before Japan won the second 25-23 to even the score.

But Iran, Asia’s highest ranked team in the world at 10th, led by as much as nine points in the third set to win 25-19 before rolling on to capture the final set 25-19, with Japan’s Masahiro Yanagida serving into his own net on match point.

Iran had finished an Asian-best sixth at last month’s world championships in Poland, for which Japan did not qualify.

Kunihiro Shimizu scored a team-high 27 points for Japan, which is the world’s 21st-ranked team behind Iran, Australia, South Korea and China.

Japan coach Masashi Nambu conceded total defeat to the Iranians.

“We brought a young team here and considered this a challenge facing a team that finished sixth at the worlds,” Nambu said. “From technique to tactics, they were easily the better team.

“The result speaks for itself; our work is cut out for us. They don’t make mistakes. They were physically stronger than us.”

Captain Yu Koshikawa tried to put a positive spin on his team’s runner-up finish, looking ahead to the qualifying campaign for the Rio de Janeiro Olympics in 2016.

“We were competitive in the first set, kept it real close,” the big-serving Koshikawa said. “I’m happy to see the younger guys on the team learning; they are improving.

“But we need to be mentally stronger against the strong teams. Since winning the Asian Games four years ago, we couldn’t do better than place fifth in Asia.”

“I think this silver medal will be an asset, something that gives us hope for the future. Our mission is to qualify for Rio and I’m convinced we’re good enough to do it.”

Iran coach Slobodan Kovac said traveling from Poland to South Korea wasn’t easy, but was worth the trip.

“We are so happy with this gold medal,” Kovac said. “Four years ago we lost to Japan and tonight we won. Japan played well in the first set but I thought we were the better team overall.”

South Korea won bronze after defeating China 3-1 in the third-place match (20-25, 25-20, 25-13, 25-22).